Queen Elizabeth 11, who has just been buried was 96. Forty eight hours before her death, she performed her last official function , when she received the 15th Prime Minister Lizz Truss in audience. The Queen was photographed, as she stood and shook hands with the Prime Minister, smiling. She died less than 24 hours later. So she worked till her last day on earth, meaning that her aging process was near perfect.
Research has shown that the process of aging begins in the middle of late twenties and continues until death. No one escapes its effects, but there are often great differences in the degree of impact on people of the same age. Take the Queen for instance, at 96 she was looking younger than some people in their 70s.
The efficiency, of a man’s body functions at the age of 75 is proportionately less than 30%. Aging shows more in the face. Changes in facial appearance come about in adulthood through atrophy of the facial bones, recession of the gums, and loss of teeth. The skin becomes dry and loses its elasticity, taking on a wrinkled appearance. This deterioration is speeded by the loss of fat deposits from under the skin. Hair becomes grey, pigments cease to be produced. Also both sexes undergo loss of hair, though actual balding is much more common in men.
You know that the last part of aging is “end of life”, of course when life ends there will be nothing to age for or with. There are actually 5 stages of aging. If you must age progressively, you cannot skip any, viz 1. Self sufficiency
4. Crisis Management..
5. End of life.
These stages will be discussed another day, now let me concentrate on aging and end of life.
Full stature, is reached by the age of 20 or shortly afterwards. After that there is little change in the size of any individual bones. However adult height does decline with the aging process. This is partly because the vertebral discs in the spine deteriorate, causing the spine to shorten slightly. But more important is the gradual weakening of the body muscles, so that the spine is not held so erect.
Possible causes of aging has been researched by Scientists overtime. Medical Science can prolong life, but it cannot yet prolong youth.
Gerontology – the serious study of aging is still relatively a new Science, compared to other Sciences which had been studied for centuries. Even the process and causes of aging are not yet properly understood.
Cell mutation is currently thought as the main cause of aging. Most cells in the body reproduce to replace cells that have died. They do so by “somatic division ie by dividing into two. In this way, the exact characteristics of the original cell are preserved. However, it is possible for mutation to occur in a cell. That is any form of damage affecting the chromosomes, which are the code system, built into the cell, that decides how it operates. Mutation can be caused by the gradual exposure over a lifetime to natural radiation from the sun or from natural occurring isotopes. Less normally, it may also be caused by disease, chemical actions or radiation from nuclear activity, exposure to x-rays etc. When mutation occurs, a cell may become inactive or do its job badly, or be actively dangerous, and this is how cancer develops.
From the age of about 25, there is a continuous loss of nerve cells – neurons from the brain and spinal cord. These cells cannot be replaced once lost, and the rate of neuron loss is accelerated in age by the onset of arteriosclerosis.
Some other factors have been seen to play a part in aging process, but they are not “causes” in the same sense as cell mutation and nerve Cell loss are thought to be.
When I was in Government College Umuahia in the early 70s, a book made an impression on me. I was into literature. I did not know I would later gravitate towards Science and eventually study Medicine. The book “She who must be obeyed by H. Rider Haggard “. The lady had the power of re-incarnation, and lived for 2,000 years. She waited for her Fiancé /husband to re-incarnate, who she had accidentally killed out of jealousy, in her previous world. She wanted to apologize and remarry him.
Then some white men(adventurers), when they heard of her longevity,, traveled to Satem in Africa, to enquire an explore how she attained the status of perpetual youthfulness. This was because she did not age a day more, after she murdered her betrothed. She was purportedly given a concoction that preserved her youth, to await the return of her killed Romeo.
Psychological stress often, has physical manifestation, and it has been noticed that stress of all sorts – physical danger, pain, mental strain etc can cause pre-mature aging. However, the biological process whereby this happens is not known.
As you grow older, there is a drop in your basal metabolic rate : that is the energy production of your body at its lowest waking level. For example the body temperature of an old man is on average 2°C less than that of a 25-year-old. Metabolic decline is a sign of the aging process, rather than a cause, but it has a wide impact on the body’s functions and abilities.
During the female menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen, and male production of testosterone also declines after the middle years, though it never reaches zero level. It was therefore natural for gerontologists to consider using injection of the appropriate hormones to make up for the body’s failing supply.
However, although injections of these hormones can reduce some physical signs of aging, smooth out wrinkled skin, they do not seem to prevent the basic psychological process of aging going on. In general, hormonal decline seems to be one of the ways in which aging expresses itself, but not a basic cause.
Muscles, lose strength,, shape and size. Joints become worn and lose their ease of articulation. Combined with the degeneration of the nervous system, ease of retrospection and confidence are lost. Loss of bone tissue makes the skeleton brittle. As calcium is lost from the bone, it tends to be deposited in other areas, especially the walls of the arteries and cartilage of the ribs. This causes loss of elasticity. One effect is lowering of lung capacity. Most internal organs – such as the liver, heart, and kidney become reduced in size and function.
The arteries, harden and narrow – arteriosclerotic. This increases the normal rise in blood pressure, which normally goes up about 0.5mg per year as we age. The speed of blood flow rises, though usually not excessively. When arteriosclerosis is combined with atheroma – degeneration of the arteries inner lining, the condition is known as atherosclerosis. These disorders of the vascular system speed up tissue decay, through in adequate blood and oxygen supply. This especially affects the heart and the brain.
End of life, is the last stage of aging process. At this point, according to President Obasanjo, the senior citizens have collected their boarding passes and are now waiting at the departure hall. Some older senior citizens choose to stop receiving medical treatment, as a protest of their deteriorating conditions. Others, especially those with religious persuasions, would continue receiving medical services, with eternity in view.
Over all though, the goal at this stage is for the older adults, to feel as comfortable as possible.
Accepting the end of life, can be profoundly difficult for any senior citizen and the family. Some regard it as a spiritual experience, a nunc dimitis of a sort, and a time to take stock, reflect and write one’s will, if there is presence of mind.
Family members may have to make complex and painful medical decisions, which can cause sever emotional turmoil, since euthanasia(mercy killing) is not yet legal in Nigeria.
The end of life, does not have to be entirely negative though. What is most important is that your loved one, knows they are cherished and appreciated, and that their memories will live on in your family.
No two people go through the aging process in exact same way. Some seniors stay in the second or third stage for more than a decade, and some progress from the first to the fifth stage quickly.
It is difficult to watch a loved one experience the aging process especially if the person deteriorates so much that he or she becomes a vegetable, that you will then wish that Nigeria practices euthanasia, or for Almighty God to end the person’s life.
Remember that the aging process is a natural part of life, and that there are meaningful moments at every stage. By understanding the stages of aging, you and your family can offer your senior loved ones the best possible care.
Aging cannot be avoided, with that said, there are several things you can do to mitigate the environmental factors that influence aging. Eat well with moderation, increase your intake of fruits when you clock 40, take more vegetables, grains, low fat dairy, lean meat and fish.. Stop smoking, do moderate exercise.
Please socialise – this keeps you psychologically engaged and may help influence longevity as well. Maintain good healthy relationships with others. Stay connected to the ones you love, and make it a point to meet new people.
Get ample sleep, reduce stress, go spiritual. Always be medically guided.
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